Co-parenting in a Crisis

During times of crisis, we tend to react from a base of fear. However, we all react or respond to fear in slightly different ways. And that’s okay. The important thing in co-parenting during this time is that you recognise there is more than one way to get through this. It’s also likely that you may have different approaches as to what’s best. The biggest concern of co-parenting through this current coronavirus crisis is if the children can move between homes safely during any future quarantines. And if not, what will happen to existing court orders or parenting agreements. I know some parents are concerned about breaches or being accused of withholding children. In short, you should follow the government advice or specific advice of your health care professional. If you or your children are diagnosed or being tested for coronavirus, then the government health advice is that you will be required to stay in isolation.  This may affect your normal co-parenting routine. It’s better to be prepared and have this conversation in advance. Work out what you will do, how you will both manage and you what you will do if the children are disadvantaged in time with the other parent. It’s best if you can be flexible, considerate and accomodating. Most of all, be child-focused. If being in quarantine is a contravention of existing orders then I recommend the following. If you normally communicate directly, email or phone your co-parent and advise them of the current situation. Talk rationally, calmly and sensitively about the situation at hand. Be considerate that this may disrupt their routine and may require a short adjustment period for them to consider. It can be a good idea to flag a conversation with an initial message that says “we might have some disruptions due to the coronavirus. I was wondering if we could talk this through?. Can I call at (time)?” If you have, or feel you need a lawyer, contact them and ask them to communicate with your co-parents lawyer about the current health status and any anticipated changes in parenting time. If you are the parent who is not with your children and the children can not be safely returned to you for your scheduled time, remain calm. These are exceptional circumstances and eventually, life will be returned to normal. These are my recommendations
  1. Communicate calmly, openly and with a child-focused approach.
  2. If quarantined, facilitate FaceTime calls for the children with their other parent.
  3. Act on specific medical or government advice only.  Do not listen to advice from well-meaning friends or social media.
  4. Keep each other openly and honestly informed in relation to the health status of yourselves and people the children may have come into contact with.
  5. Some people who have compromised immunity disorders may be on specific advice to remain in social isolation at this time. This may be extended family such as grandparents.
  6. If you or the children are NOT diagnosed or being tested for coronavirus, then shared parenting should continue as normal.
Please remember, we are ALL going through something unusual. Keep calm and keep communication open, honest and sensitive to the fact that we are all dealing with something a little unknown. However, there is no reason to panic. Calm communication is your best tool. See our parenting after separation course for more tips on improved communication.

The Leaver and the Left

There is a concept in separation and divorce in which there is often a disparity between where each party are emotionally in relation to the separation.

While some couples come to the decision together, in many cases one party has already made the decision to leave long before they’ve told the other. They are referred to as ‘the leaver’. This can cause a great deal of frustration for the person who is being left.

As you will see from the inserted graphic, the leaver is ahead at every stage. By the time they are making new plans and coming to terms with their life ahead, the left is only just finding out. This in itself can cause a great deal of conflict.

What happens then is the grief cycle for the left, which the leaver has already had time to come to terms with, is only just beginning. For the leaver, there are heightened emotions, often denial and sometimes still trying to save the relationship. This is discussed in full in the parenting after separation course.

The message I encourage separating parents to understand is to have an understanding that you are each on the same path but at different stages. You will ultimately both come to a place of acceptance, however, if you can respect that each of you is at different stages, this will go smoother.

Consider the graphic and where you are now.

Were you the leaver or the left?

Where is your co-parent at on this scale?

What do you think life looks for them now?

What do you think they experienced at various stages?

This is just some food for thought. You may not come up with all the answers you need right away. Processing relationship grief and loss is an individual journey and can take time. You will come through this in the end.

As always, I’m here to help. You can contact me via the contact form on this site or at parentingafterseparation.com.au

Co-parenting at Christmas: What your children really want you to know

Christmas and birthdays are the most important days in a child’s calendar. When you are little, a rotation around the sun takes ‘like’ FOREVER! Just ask any 5-year-old. You’re a parent. I’m sure this isn’t news to you.

Many families have an agreement for alternating years with each parent for Christmas Day. For those who have families in country areas or other cities, this allows you to travel if you need. For other separated couples who haven’t managed to put aside their differences, alternating Christmas is just the way it is. It is widely viewed as the fairest way to manage Christmas. At least, that’s the parents’ view.

For children of separated parents, this can be a very hard day. They are missing one of the two people they love most in the world. Half of what makes them whole is absent. It’s grief they can’t yet define.

Even though they are happy in moments throughout the day, their mind wanders frequently to what the other parent is doing. Here is some of what they want you to know.

I wonder if my other parent is okay.

I wonder who they are with.

Are they having fun?

What if they are alone?

Because even a child knows being alone on Christmas would be ‘just the worst thing ever’.

For these children, a big piece of what is most precious to them is missing on Christmas Day.

What they really want you to know is

Even though today is really fun with you, I also miss them too.

I love you both and it makes me sad to not see them.

I wish that I could see them today too.

If I am acting out, it’s because I don’t have the words I need to express myself. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, or them. It means I am sad inside.

In most cases, there are ways you can improve co-parenting at Christmas so your children truly have the best possible day.

Share the day

Even if you can only arrange an hour, please share the day with the other parent. There is nothing more heartbreaking than knowing someone you love is nearby but you can’t speak to them. Let them spend time together so they can exchange presents and be a part of each other’s happiness. No matter your past disagreements, Christmas is about the kids and this will mean the world to them.

Buy a present for the other parent

Take your child shopping to buy a thoughtful present for their other parent. It matters to them that you are resilient enough to put your differences aside. Help them wrap it and make it beautiful and special.

Include them in the day

If you are a distance away, you can still include the other parent. Facilitate a FaceTime call – or even a couple of times in the day. Ask your child if they would like to save some storable food or treats for their other parent so when they do see them they will be able to share some of those memories.

Remember your child’s extended family

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousin’s all make up an important part of your child’s happiness. Facilitate a call with them so they can say Merry Christmas to them too.

Be happy for them when they talk about their other parent

This one applies year-round, but it’s a good reminder at Christmas to stay focused on positive communication regarding your co-parent. Encourage them to be excited for their shared time and to make the most of every opportunity. They will thank you for it in the years to come.

These are little gestures which go a long way to your child having ‘the best Christmas ever’. And we all want that for our children.

Make this a truly merry and memorable Christmas.

For help with parenting after separation please see the parenting course website or contact Jasmin

Activities for engaging your children online

Often the non-resident parent (be that for a week, or extended period) will report having difficulty in engaging children online. Phone calls, Skype and Facetime are all wonderful ways to interact. But how do you keep them interested?

Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that online engagement can be both necessary and sometimes the only means of contact for a long period. This not only applies to separated parents but also Defence personnel on deployment, FIFO parents, etc. It’s hard, but it’s survivable.

Many parents of young children report their children are disinterested or seem distracted. They may have 20 minutes allocated but it’s hard to keep the attention of a small child for that long unless you’re doing an activity with them.

Here are some tips and suggestions I give often to parents of young children. Remember that some activities may be trial and error.

Read a storybook

Just as you used to do at bedtime, children still love for you to read stories to them. Pick a few books and have them nearby. You can turn the pages to face the screen and read as you go. They will probably remember some of the sounds, or words and might even join in.

Make them a gift

Get yourself some craft supplies and while on your Skype call, ask your child for input into what you are making for them. For instance, if you’re making a stick figure doll (paddle pop sticks, glue, coloured cotton wool, buttons) – then invite them to choose the colours, fabric or tools you use to create it. These can all be purchased cheaply at a $2 shop or similar.

When it’s done and if possible, send it to them. Or tell them you’ll keep it in a safe place for when you next see them.

Draw a picture

Using an A4 notepad, ask them a topic of something they like. It might be an animal, a farm, a house – whatever comes to their mind. Invite them to give you feedback as you draw. Which colour green? Where should I put the sun? What’s goes on top of the hill? Are there clouds?

PS. You don’t have to be Picasso! Remember, this is not a test – it’s fun for you and your children.

Play a song

Bring out the smiles with a favourite song from one of their favourite characters, kids bands, or movies. Yeah, you’ll be singing along to Frozen in no time!

If you’re musical, play or sing them something yourself. Just aim to choose a song that is a favourite of theirs.

Play a memory game

Okay, so this isn’t like the cards memory game (although if you’re clever you could try that too. Here’s what I mean:

You start by saying, let’s play a memory game! “I remember the time we went to the Gold Coast on holidays”. Then it’s their turn. “Oh yeah, I remember when we went to movie world!” Your next turn “I remember the day you were born and we were at the hospital” Now, they aren’t going to remember that so prompt them with “What is your next favourite memory” and on it goes.

Write yourself some prompters and have them nearby. It’s okay to talk about the past when you were a family. It’s very positive for them to remember happy times.

Remember….

Children learn through repetition – and they enjoy it! So don’t be afraid to repeat the ones that work the best. You don’t need to reinvent yourself coming up with ideas for every time.

You’re doing your best and that’s fantastic. Every step forward is one less you have to take!

The Struggle of Parallel Parenting

The struggle of parallel parenting is real! Parallel parenting is the term given to a style of parenting that is adopted by some parents, most frequently when there is a high level of conflict and a low level of communication. What it means in practical terms is that each of you will parent differently.

VERY differently.

When we talk about this struggle it does not necessarily apply to all. For many families, this is the best approach for the least amount of conflict and it can work extremely well. However, for some, it presents frequent challenges.

There may be one set of rules in your house, and another in the other parents home. While it would be conveniently easy to say what goes on there is none of your business, it’s also quite difficult to accept this when you feel the children aren’t being cared for as you’d wish.

There is a saying that’s appropriate here and it always comes to mind for me when helping parents through these frustrations.

Your level of happiness is determined by the difference between your expectations and reality

Having an expectation that things are going to change can be fraught with disappointment. I’m not suggesting you lower your standards or those you wish for your children, but sometimes it’s beneficial to take stock of what’s within your power and what’s not. Then work out what, or how, you might be able to influence a different outcome, and let go of everything else.

The most common issues arising for those who parallel parent are:

  • Child bedtimes or other routines.
  • Activities, or lack of
  • Attention to homework or after school activities.
  • Decisions affecting the children made without consultation.

Parallel parenting can be a challenge for one, if not both of you. When conflict is high there is a tendency for at least one parent to be quite opposed to any suggestion or routine which is adopted in the other home.

But all is not lost. There are some simple steps you can apply that will help make this path smoother.

Minimise the opportunities for conflict

This may be through minimising time spent in each others company, especially at handovers or when the children are present. It does not have to mean eliminating it altogether unless you feel that is absolutely necessary. It is helpful for the children to see you together at times, and being courteous to each other in the presence – if that is at all possible. If it’s not possible, keep contact minimal and courteous.

Communication Skills

Communication Book

A common tool is for the parents to use a handover book to communicate important things about the children. This may be about changes in pick up, school uniforms, planned holidays or other occasions.

Try a communication app

There are many parent communication apps on the market today. In some cases, you can employ the services for a third-party mediator to monitor your communication or to call upon if you need help.

Our Family Wizard and Parenting Apart two common applications you might wish to try. Otherwise, try google for parenting apps.

Choosing your battles

This is quite a big subject however with every conflict if you consider a few key questions it can help to prioritise where this sits in the hierarchy of matters to focus on.

  1. What will the children lose or benefit from in relation to resolving this conflict?
  2. How important is it to resolve this right now?
  3. Are my assumptions or thoughts about this outcome (the outcome you want) legitimate?
  4. What will be the follow-on impact of pursuing this?
  5. How successful is my approach likely to be?
  6. Is there another way to approach this?
  7. Is this something I can let slide?

Parallel parenting can be hard, however, it is manageable if you both can remain child-focused. Think of it as solving a puzzle. How can I piece this together so it makes more sense and is less frustrating?

Need help? Contact Jasmin directly or via Facebook